In a move that might signal a ray of hope for industrial dance purists, VNV Nation has enlisted underground German EBM sensation Soman as the opening act for their new “Matter + Form” tour. Kolja Trelle, the artist behind Soman, began his set at Anaheim’s House of Blues at 8:00, early even for a weeknight all-ages event, and still managed to put on quite a decent show. Though the performance consisted only of Trelle himself, he was a more interesting performer than your average electronic solo artist, working the sequencer and sampler with one hand while using the other to gesticulate wildly like some robotic orchestra conductor. Cramming a variety of tracks from his full-length “Sound Pressure” as well as the forthcoming “Unleashed” EP into his half-hour set, Trelle’s set mixed instrumental EBM with hard trance and power noise influences. Always affable, Trelle smiled throughout, waved at the audience, and thanked those lucky fans who had arrived early enough to hear his set.
Second in the schedule were hometown heroes Imperative Reaction, who performed as a three-piece, with System Syn’s Clint Carney joining front man Ted Phelps and electronic drummer Gabriel Opruta. Imperative Reaction’s sound has gotten smoother and more accessible since their first release in the late ‘90s, and Phelps is definitely a competent enough vocalist to manage fronting an EBM act without heavy vocal processing. Newer songs like “Faded Into One” and “Something I Left Behind” combined raw-throated angst with memorable vocal hooks, and the aggressive electronics combined with Phelp’s naked voice on the live version of “Scorpio” turned a harsh EBM track into something like vintage coldwave without the guitars. Carney’s background screaming added more organic aggression to Imperative Reaction’s sound, and his vocal trade-offs with Phelps added unexpected depth to the band’s performance. The only mishap occurred during “Giving In To The Change,” but Phelps should get the benefit of the doubt on that one; VNV Nation’s background video for “Praise the Fallen” suddenly coming on would be enough to throw anyone off-key.
Dance floor darlings VNV Nation gave a memorable performance, of course, and lead singer Ronan Harris puts forth a surprising amount of energy on stage, especially for an EBM performer. He also makes extraordinary efforts to connect with the audience. Beyond the ubiquitous shouts of “I want to see you move!” and “Let me see your hands,” he’s also a bit of a comedian, mocking everything from his own girth (“Five months along and we still don’t know who the father is”) to his music’s melodramatic reputation. “Don’t jump,” he called to one audience member hanging over the balcony to get a better view, “Our songs aren’t that depressing, I promise!” Since VNV Nation had just toured California in January to preview their new album, tonight’s set was a more eclectic mix, featuring long-time crowd favorites like “Praise the Fallen,” “Dark Angel,” and “Legion” as well as newer material. “Solitary,” perhaps the band’s signature song, put the audience in a state of temporary solemnity, while new tracks like “Perpetual,” which Harris confessed is his new favorite to play live, offered perkier synthpop-influenced moments. So far fans have been polarized by VNV Nation’s newest album, but even diehards that haven’t enjoyed the band since 2000’s “Empires” had plenty of reason to celebrate tonight.
For more information and tour dates, visit the bands online at www.soman.de, www.imperativereaction.net, and www.vnvnation.com.
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